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Eliwood8

3rd Annual Ninfora Game of the Year Awards, 2019

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It's that time of year again folks. Time for me to wrap up the year with a look back on my favorite Nintendo games with the 3rd annual Ninfora Game Awards.
 
The Switch's third year may not have seen the addition of explosively popular titles like Breath of the Wild or Smash Ultimate, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a ton of great games to choose from in 2019. And what a year for getting RPG ports—not all of them are listed below but there have been some huge RPG titles added to the Switch library this year, enough to keep this RPG fan entirely too busy. Add on the big name Nintendo-developed games and a healthy amount of third-party support and you've got a pretty great year for Switch owners.
 
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You have to respect Dragon Quest for finding a formula and sticking with it. Sure there are important quality of life improvements over the years, but at its heart Dragon Quest XI S feels like a classic RPG, and that's probably why it's so easy to lose yourself in the game for a hundred hours. It also certainly helps that this game is really made for the fans that have stuck by the series for decades—the whole concept of revisiting past games for side quests is just a fantastic love letter to the entire franchise. Even though there have been several classic RPGs re-released on the Switch this year, there's no one better than Dragon Quest for that familiar charm.
 
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The "End of an Era" Award: Shovel Knight: King of Cards
Over six years ago, an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign promised a meticulously crafted side-scrolling pixel art adventure with not one, not two, but three DLC expansions, all free for backers and early adopters. Just a few weeks ago that promise has finally been fulfilled with the release of King of Cards and Shovel Knight Showdown, the 4-player battle mode. I'm sure no one thought it would take this long to see the Kickstarter's stretch goals fulfilled—least of all the developers—but if anything can be said about the four Shovel Knight campaigns, it's that every single one of them has been worth the wait. King of Cards once again delightfully redefines the Shovel Knight world with far more than a simple sprite-swap, and Showdown's chaotic charm relies heavily on the community's love for these knightly characters. It's incredible to think that Yacht Club Games has been working on the original game and its expansions for over half a decade, but it's clear that their skills as game developers have only gotten better and better, and whatever they move on to next will be a game worth waiting for.
 
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Best Genre Mash-Up: Creature in the Well
There are actually a few notable genre mash-ups on this list, but I have to give credit to Creature in the Well for being the most inventive one. A hack 'n' slash dungeon exploration with pinball mechanics is undeniably original, and best of all it's a blast to play as well. The game combines the simple satisfaction of a pinball game with the addictive drive of a dungeon crawler, keeping you well invested in exploring every corner of the game's world. It's great to see that developers are still able to come up with such surprising and fun gameplay mechanics as Creature in the Well.
 
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The Biggest Pikachu Award: Pokémon Sword & Shield 
Pokémon's leap to a home console system might not have been the game-changer that fans were hoping for, but it did have some big additions. Puns aside, Pokémon Sword & Shield does add some fun new features, most notably the Wild Area which is about as close to an open-world Pokémon experience as we've seen yet and makes the Pokémon catching process feel a little more natural and free. Of course, there are also areas where Sword & Shield feel like a step back for the franchise, but there's no denying the excitement of Dynamaxing a Pokémon in the middle of a packed stadium full of cheering fans.
 
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Best Advance Wars Game: Wargroove
Even though I love the Fire Emblem series and its newfound success in recent years, I can't deny that I'm sorely disappointed that developer Intelligent Systems seems to have entirely abandoned the Advance Wars franchise. Over ten years without a new game is certainly not a good sign, at any rate. So I was particularly delighted to see the similar grid-based strategy gameplay and sprite graphics of Chucklefish's Wargroove, a game that unabashedly wears its AW influence on its sleeve. That's not to say that Wargroove is merely a derivative game, though. There are plenty of unique mechanics to enjoy here, and the strategy gameplay is as wonderfully satisfying and engaging as the best that AW has to offer. Maybe we don't need a new AW title as long as Wargroove is keeping the spirit of the franchise alive.
 
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Cutest Game: Yoshi's Crafted World
From Woolly to Crafted, Yoshi games can't help but be absolutely adorable. It should be little surprise, considering the franchise started with the unique crayon aesthetic of Yoshi's Island, but Yoshi's Crafted World ups the ante with an entire craft store's worth of materials to build the scenery of this adventure. The visuals are totally charming, and even if the core gameplay hasn't changed much over the years, it's still an engaging—if easy—platformer. And it makes Yoshi's adventure particularly suited to young gamers, even for a company known for making family-friendly titles.
 
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I couldn't have been more excited to see developer Image & Form was finally tackling a SteamWorld RPG, and the fact that combat was card-based only further piqued my imagination. After all, if there's one developer that knows how to make unusual gameplay concepts work, it's Image & Form. And I certainly wasn't disappointed. The card-based battles are wonderfully engaging and offer a wealth of strategies without being overwhelming, which makes every battle action-packed and addictive. Add in a rich RPG story—one with far more depth than any previous Image & Form title—and SteamWorld Quest becomes an absolutely unmissable Switch title for 2019.
 
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Most Stylish Game: Astral Chain
If there's one thing you can say about Platinum Games titles, it's that they have style. Of course, they also have wonderfully rich combat systems that put all those stylish graphics and attacks to great use, and Astral Chain takes things one step further with its unique dual-character combat. Like so many Platinum games, the real joy of the experience is not just defeating enemies but doing it with panache, and chaining attacks between your human character and his or her Legion is wonderfully satisfying. Even if the story in Astral Chain feels a little underused, there's no denying the addictive depth of the combat system.
 
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Best Use of Music: Ape Out
Note that this award isn't for best music (although the game does have a fantastic soundtrack) but specifically for use of music, because Ape Out features a brilliant "reactive music system" that essentially allows you to create your own improvised jazz number through your actions in the game. Every time you grab an enemy and throw them into a wall you're treated to a satisfying cymbal crash. As your panicked dash through the laboratory speeds up, so does the soundtrack's tempo. It's an awfully clever way of integrating the music into the gameplay, and combined with Ape Out's stylish graphics and addictive gameplay, makes the game a true standout for the year.
 
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Best Mario Luigi Game: Luigi's Mansion 3
It’s always a treat to see Luigi take center stage over his brother. Even after having an entire year dedicated to him a while ago, Luigi still manages to get stuck on balloon duty while Mario is on a globe trotting adventure. But with Luigi’s Mansion 3, the mean green machine is back in the player one seat, and this time he’s even brought along another Luigi to help him. This latest ghost-busting adventure finds a nice balance of new and old for a fun-filled adventure that is more silly than spooky—a perfect continuation of Luigi’s solo adventures. Catching ghosts and collecting cash remains as charming a game formula as ever, and this hopefully won’t be the last we see of the Poltergust.
 
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Most Delightful Crossover Game: Cadence of Hyrule
I can't imagine there are many things more exciting, as a game developer, than getting the chance to work on one of Nintendo's biggest franchises. And not just work on it, but to put your own unique style and spin on it, and have the resulting combination work so beautifully. Cadence of Hyrule meshes the world and charm of Zelda with the addictive, rhythmic gameplay of Crypt of the NecroDancer in a way that feels totally natural and yet delightfully unique as well. The fact that the soundtracks of both franchises are brilliantly combined and remixed by composer Danny Baranowsky is just icing on the cake. It's a real treat to see a Zelda adventure through the lens of another gameplay style, and hopefully Cadence of Hyrule leads to other unique Nintendo crossovers in the future.
 
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Best Digital Toy Box: Super Mario Maker 2
How do you improve upon a creative toy box of user-generated content? Add cat suits. Super Mario Maker 2 does a fantastic job of building upon the course creation insanity of the first game with the addition of plenty of new features, including a Super Mario 3D World theme (and hopefully more themes in the future…?). It's also a real testament to how fun the essential building blocks of a Mario game are that literally anyone can come up with fun, inventive levels to play. Nintendo easily could have slapped a bit of new paint on Super Mario Maker and released it on the Switch to widespread success, so it's great to see how much effort went into making Super Mario Maker 2 feel like a worthy sequel with a wide selection of creative content.
 
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Most Satisfyingly Difficult Game: Cuphead
Forget the dark and horrific scenery and monsters of games like Dark Souls—the best setting for an incredibly difficult game is clearly 1930s animation. The rest of the world may have been enjoying (and tearing their hair out about) Cuphead for a couple of years now, but Switch fans have only recently had a chance to die hundreds of times in an attempt to fight an overgrown flower. What Cuphead does so well though is keeping the experience fun and engaging even when it is so challenging. The gorgeous animation and audio is a big part of that, but regardless, Cuphead makes super-difficult boss fights incredibly fun—and, of course, incredibly satisfying once you finally beat them.
 
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Best Surprise: Collection of Mana
Seiken Densetsu 3: one of the white whales of gaming localization, an SNES RPG that never made it outside of Japan, despite, seemingly, the strong success of its predecessor, Secret of Mana. Well, it may have taken over twenty years, but fans finally got the chance to experience the game (now called Trials of Mana) as part of the Collection of Mana, a must-have Switch game for fans of classic action-RPGs. To finally get the chance to play Trials of Mana in a properly localized English version was easily a highlight of this year's E3. And who knows, maybe we'll soon finally see a localization for another popular third entry in a classic RPG franchise…
 
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Most Immersive Game: Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
Horror games only really work when you allow yourself to be immersed in the setting. You can't just be a passive participant, otherwise the scares and atmosphere won't have any impact. You have to put yourself into the mind of the main character, and never has that been more appropriate than with Senua, whose head is already filled with other presences. When you fully immerse yourself into the setting and story of Hellblade, the effect is a truly unique gaming experience thanks to the incredible care and detail that the developers put into building an adventure around someone suffering from psychosis. It's an unparalleled experience.
 
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Best Psychedelic Rhythm Game: Sayonara Wild Hearts
It's so much easier to get drawn in by a rhythm game that uses songs you already know since the game can use the emotional investment you already have to keep you engaged with the gameplay. So it's particularly impressive that Sayonara Wild Hearts, with its original soundtrack, can create such a deeply mesmerizing experience that keeps the songs in your head for days. That's not even to mention the fact that the game is so short, and yet still manages to pack so much energy and soul into its delightfully surreal visuals and infectious music. It's easily one of the most unique games of the year, not just in terms of its style and aesthetic but in the way it connects to the player through an interactive emotional journey, and that easily makes it a must-play title for the Switch.
 
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Best Goose Game: Untitled Goose Game
Maybe the more appropriate award for this one would be "Most Meme-able Game," since it seems like half of Untitled Goose Game's appeal is in its widespread internet popularity. But even without the incredible amount of memes and jokes surrounding the goose, this is a ridiculously charming and charmingly ridiculous take on stealth gameplay, one that has you mildly annoying and inconveniencing people instead of murdering rooms full of guards. It's also a perfect example of the fact that you don't need exhaustive gameplay mechanics if you've got personality. Honk.
 
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The "Punk's Not Dead" Award: Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes
Travis Strikes Again probably wasn't what people really expected in a new No More Heroes game, but there's no denying that it has Suda51's distinct sense of style. Off-kilter characters, 4th wall breaking meta humor, and one incredibly bizarre premise for a story ensure Travis Strikes Again has all the flavor of a No More Heroes title, even if the gameplay has traded third-person action for top-down hack'n'slash combat. Perhaps more importantly for some fans though, this game ensures that the No More Heroes series isn't dead yet, and we can look forward to another adventure through the garden of madness next year.
 
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This version of Link's Awakening definitely gives Yoshi's Crafted World a run for its money on the Cutest Game award, but the best aspect is probably just that this is a fantastic remake of a classic game. The core experience is perfectly preserved, but there's enough new content to make the adventure still feel fresh. Plus there are some invaluable adjustments like making certain items always equipped that just makes the flow of the game smoother. The game's strikingly cute visual style may be the first thing to jump out at players when starting up Link's Awakening, but it's the classic Zelda gameplay and quietly heartfelt story that leave the real impact.
 
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Most Confounding Puzzle Game: Baba Is You
You know that feeling when you've been stumped by a particularly tricky puzzle, and then eventually something clicks in your mind, the pieces fall into place, and you're left with an eminently satisfying sense of accomplishment? That's basically every level of Baba Is You, an almost maddeningly complex puzzle game that has you rewriting the rules of the game in order to reach the goal. Pushing words around allows you to make walls no obstacle at all, or turn deadly lava into a harmless splotch of color. Baba Is You is incredibly clever, so clever that you'll often be tearing your hair out trying to find a solution. But when you do, that's when Baba is best.
 
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Game of the Year 2019: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
I know, I know, I'm a big Fire Emblem fan so it's not much of a surprise that this would be my pick for Game of the Year. But Three Houses isn't skating by simply on its name. This is a massive game, and one that proves to be wonderfully addictive from the first minute to the last. The huge emphasis on interacting with characters outside of battle is something of a logical progression for the series, even if it does seem a little strange at first to spend so much time not actually fighting. But the huge cast of likeable characters quickly alleviates that feeling, and you'll find yourself invested in these characters' backstories and interactions, from the comical to the dramatic. The core combat system features only minor changes, but there's no need to fix what isn't broken, and instead Three Houses simply refines the addictive combat mechanics that make Fire Emblem so engaging playthrough after playthrough (particularly appropriate here, with three different paths available). Strategy RPGs may not be for everyone, but when they're this good everyone should at least give Three Houses a try—you might end up addicted to a 100+ hour game like me.

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On 12/31/2019 at 4:28 AM, EH_STEVE said:

I played Untitled Goose Game over the Holidays and loved it. I hope they sequel it.

 

Hopefully they do. It wouldn't even need to be terribly different in terms of gameplay mechanics, just more tasks and goose-based mayhem.

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Posted (edited)

Not quite how this thread is set up but I will do my post as the following:

 

IN 2019 I bought:

 

New SMBU DLX

Super Mario Maker 2

Sonic Team Racing

Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled

Links Awakening

Luigis Mansion 3 (*Christmas gift)

Crash N Sane Trilogy (*Christmas gift, haven't played yet)

Yoshi's Crafted World

Collection of Mana (birthday present)

BotW DLC Pass (*Christmas present, haven't played content yet)

Smash Bros DLC Fighter Pass

 

If I got any eshop games this year, the titles escape me now and I won't look up release dates as I know I haven't done much digital purchasing.

 

My own Top 4 overall from this lot:

 

1) Link's Awakening

--The art style and music put this one really up there.  I found it way more accessible than the GBA original.

2) Crash Team Racing

--I had the original for use with a PS2 I had.  I liked the game well enough to get the next one on GameCube.  Not sure why I dumped the GC one but I did sell off my PS2 and thus the game to get a computer repair done.  I have put a lot of time in this game.  I really like how they did it.  My only real issues with the game are the Wumpa Coin earning tiers for stuff in the game.  It seems like stuff is overpriced for how fast you can earn stuff.  The free updates with tracks, racers, skins, and car parts has been quite good.  I just don't like the limited time windows to get them.

3) Collection  of Mana

--I loved SoM a lot, and to play the sequel was worth it to me.  This Trials of Mana is the only game I have played on the cart though and that music and sprite work would have been top tier in teh 16 bit era.

4) Yoshi's Crafted World

--I liked the game, I found its core idea to be real solid.  The graphics, music, and creativity were really well thought out.  However, Woolly World was by far the superior game.  Its hook was intoxicating for finding all the Wonder Wool for the custom pattern Yoshis as well as the Amiibo Yoshis.  And, honestly, the the 3DS one took it a step further with the custom Yoshi Creator.  This game took a big step back with its hook for getting all the different kinds of shield vehicles.  Also, the forced replay ability as nothing more than collection fests that could have been done the first time seemed really off-putting and cheap.  They should have done the front/back mechanic continuously through the level where you could switch when you wanted to kind of like in Super Paper Mario.

 

Honorable Mention: Smash DLC

Since every character arrived in 2019 aside from #5 I have to say that each one worked and played well.  Offered great stages, music, and interesting ideas on the how and why they got chosen.  I think my top to to use are Terry and Banjo.  But I do like Hero and Joker.

 

 

My Meh Games of 2019:

1) NSMBU DLX

I knew what I was getting when I bought it but I liked the Peachette idea and I also kind of it it because my GCU was still in effect.  I get why it exists but it should have had some expanded content.

 

2) Super Mario Maker 2

My meh comes from the user interface differences in the creation tool from the first game.  I knew there would have to be changes because of the differences between the Switch and the WiiU but it felt hard to work with.  Also, they jacked up the online for the game.  The games strongest points would be all the new level themes and enemies.  Its weakest would be no Mystery Mushroom costumes, poor online, Nintendo not even doing special stages here and there throughout the game.

 

3) Sonic Team Racing

The game's music, race tracks, and graphics are solid BUT the forced team mechanic, while I appreciate its differentiating feature, kind of hurts the game because of how flows in-game.  Also, I find it a let down from the greatness of Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing Transformed.

 

************

 

Luigis Mansion 3 needs more play time from me, but I think it will make my top games list based on how far I am in it right now.

 

************

 

Overall, for my games bought this year, I feel pretty good about the money spent.  No real trash games that I hated.

 

I think Yoshi and Super Mario Maker 2 were my two most desired yet left me underwhelmed overall games.

 

 

Getting Collection of Mana was my biggest treat.

*I still want to get the Contra and Castlevania collections  too but haven't had the time or money.

 

Luigis Mansion is looking pretty good.  The original I never got into--I just didn't like it.  I didn't play Dark Moon but my brother did give it a positive light.  The quality time they put in to this game is really showing.

 

Was Tetris 99 a 2019 game?  For some reason I thought it hit in 2018 at the end of the year.  IF it is a 2019 game, I do like it with its battle royale concept and the then the events to earn new themes for play.

 

I still think I want to get Cuphead!

Edited by purple_beard

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I don't remember how many games categories were up there and to be honest it seem more than last year with categories like 'biggest Pikachu' and 'the punk is not dead' awards. (I agree with those awards, btw) but outside that and what I can remember there's one I would substitute another game. The surprise one with Ori and the Blind forest but your reasoning for Collection of Mana is pretty valid. I think Ori wouldn't be much of surprise if Cuphead didn't spearhead it.

 

 

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